MITCHELL Pearce's hopes of retaining the Newcastle Knights' captaincy may hinge on whether he can salvage his friendship with teammate Lachlan Fitzgibbon.
Pearce is dealing with a self-inflicted crisis after his wedding to Kristin Scott, scheduled for Byron Bay earlier this week, was postponed at late notice amid allegations that he had been caught sending compromising texts to a female Knights employee.
The texts have been described in various media reports as "flirty", "racy", "steamy" and "sexting".
Knights officials have declined to comment, insisting the issue is "a private matter that stays between the two individuals".
They are yet to confirm or deny reports that Pearce's captaincy is "under review".
An already-awkward situation has been complicated by the innocent third parties who have been affected.
The woman who allegedly received the texts from Pearce is understood to have a long-term partner who plays in the Newcastle Rugby League competition.
That player is a former Knights junior and lower grader who has been one of Fitzgibbon's best mates for years, leaving the big back-rower in an unenviable position.
It is unclear if Pearce and Fitzgibbon have spoken since the story first broke.
The Knights have been on their Christmas-New Year break since Tuesday last week but return to pre-season training on Monday.
The club was unable to confirm yesterday whether Pearce would attend.
The controversy has created an unwanted dilemma for Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien, who now faces the toughest decision of his young coaching career.
Pearce has captained the Knights since he arrived at the club from Sydney Roosters at the end of 2017, and with 297 NRL games and 19 Origins under his belt, the 31-year-old is clearly Newcastle's most experienced player.
But presumably there is concern behind the scenes about whether this unfortunate episode will prove an ongoing distraction with the potential to de-stabilise and divide O'Brien's team.
There has already been widspread speculation that Pearce's popularity with his teammates has been strained.
According to nine.com.au website: "Officials are worried that the situation in the playing group will be untenable as a result of the scandal and are considering releasing Pearce to a rival NRL club."
The report described Fitzgibbon's relationship with Pearce as "icy".
Pearce has another season to run on his deal with Newcastle and has stated publicly he would like to re-sign.
But the club appears in no rush, reportedly indicating early in negotiations he would need to consider accepting a significant pay cut.
Statistics suggest that, while Pearce played in every game for Newcastle last year, he was not as influential as in his first two seasons with the club.
This latest drama is unlikely to enhance his bagaining position.